Middle school sports proposal really a tax hike

Don Huebscher:

The issue: A proposal to allow non-public school students to play on sports teams at Eau Claire’s public middle schools.
Our view: The purpose is to skirt state-imposed levy limits, which doesn’t get at the heart of the problems that cause ongoing government deficits.
At first blush, an Eau Claire school district proposal to invite non-public school middle-schoolers to participate in seventh- and eighth-grade athletics seems like a nice gesture to offer team sports opportunities to young people who otherwise might not have them.
But no doubt the key reason for the proposal, which the board hasn’t approved, is that it allows the school district to move $705,000 from the general fund, which is subject to levy limits, to something called the “community service fund,” which operates outside of those state-imposed constraints.
School board member Mike Bollinger leveled with the taxpayers at last week’s board meeting. “I want to be very, very clear to our public – this is a ($705,000) tax increase … in a non-referendum format. If there is input to be had out there, we want to hear it.”

Educational Equity

George Wood:

Do we have an “achievement gap” in schools in the United States or an “educational debt” that we owe many of our children and communities? This is the question that Forum Convener Gloria-Ladson Billings puts before us in her featured piece in this edition of The Forum’s newsletter. It is a question that challenges us to revisit our nation’s oft-repeated but yet-to-be realized commitment to equal educational opportunity – a commitment fundamental to our future as a democracy.
Repaying the Educational Debt is the third in a series we have sent out asking for your comments. (See earlier essays from Convener’s Carl Glickman and Deborah Meier.) These essays are being developed in conjunction with The Forum’s white paper on the appropriate federal role in supporting public schooling, which will be released on April 23rd of this year. We intend to follow this framework document with recommendations on equity, teaching and learning, and community accountability in calling for a renewal of our commitment to the public, democratic purpose of our public schools. Your comments on each of these essays are helping us frame these recommendations.

Passing Eighth Grade Gets a Little Harder

Elissa Gootman:

The Bloomberg administration won approval for a new eighth-grade promotion policy last night at a meeting repeatedly interrupted by the chanting and heckling of parents who contend that the policy amounts to blaming students for the failings of the city’s middle schools.
The policy requires next year’s eighth graders to pass classes in core subject areas and to score at a basic level on standardized English and math exams to be promoted. The Panel for Educational Policy, which oversees the city schools, approved the policy by a vote of 11 to 1 in its meeting at Tweed Courthouse, the Education Department’s headquarters. Eight of the 13 members on the panel — there is one vacancy — are appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and the five borough presidents appoint one each.
From the moment the meeting began, it was punctuated by parents chanting, “Postpone the vote” and “No plan, no vote,” a reference to what they said was the department’s lack of a comprehensive plan for fixing the city’s middle schools.

3 more districts expect to offer 4-year-old kindergarten

Karyn Saemann:

Two area school districts will begin offering kindergarten for 4-year-olds in the fall.
A third will do it, but only if it gets state help.
The Stoughton and Deerfield school boards voted Monday night to provide half-day 4K.
The Cambridge School Board approved it, but made its approval contingent on receiving state money.
Cambridge Board Vice President Marcia Staubli said today, “If we don’t get the grant, we’re going to revisit the issue” on April 28, the next regular board meeting.
Stoughton and Deerfield officials said they also plan to apply for state start-up grants, for up to $3,000 per student.
They join Marshall and Wisconsin Heights, which now offer 4K, and Monona Grove, which will begin in the fall. About two-thirds of districts statewide now have 4K. To enroll, children must be 4 years old by Sept. 1, 2008. Conventional kindergarten starts at age 5.

Related: Marc Eisen on 4 year old kindergarden. More here

Milwaukee Parent Site Digs into the School Budget

Dani McClain:

How can Milwaukee Public Schools support its high-achieving programs while meeting its mandate to improve struggling schools?
That’s the central question at a web site parents at Milwaukee German Immersion School have launched to weigh in on the district’s budget process for the 2008- ’09 school year.
District officials have asked the specialty elementary school, which has just over 580 students and consitently gets more than three-fourths of them scoring in the proficient or advanced range on state test scores, to cut around $180,000 from next year’s budget.
Last month, principal Albert Brugger and the school’s Governance Council responded by submitting a proposal that cuts music and physical eduation from the school’s offerings. The school has lost its assistant principal and art teacher in recent years due to budget constraints.

Principal Recruitment Another Move in Reform

Theola Labb:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee likes to tell a story about one of her principals who pledged to improve student achievement scores by 43 percentage points by the end of the school year.
How? Rhee asked.
” ‘I’m going to pray,’ ” the principal said, according to Rhee.
“It showed me,” Rhee recently told the Washington-based Institute for Education, “that there’s a very significant disconnect with some of our school leaders in really understanding what challenges they’re up against.”

Driving Miss Chloe

Caitlin Flanagan:

YOU know her — that nice teenager across the street? Chloe. There she is, sitting in one of the two captain’s seats in the midsection of her mom’s Toyota Sienna, bopping along to the music on her iPod. Now and then she pulls out one of the ear buds so that she can tell her mom some forgotten bit of news or gossip; Chloe’s mom is up to speed on the dramas that are always unfolding in her daughter’s circle of friends, just as she can tell you the date of her next French test, the topic of her coming history paper and the location and scope of her next community service project. They have a great night planned out: they’re going to pick up Chloe’s best friend and then drive back home for a night of DVDs and popcorn in the family room. Her mom will putter around close by, and her dad will probably sit down and watch one of the movies with the girls.
When I was in high school in the 1970s, we had a name for teenagers like Chloe: losers. If an otherwise normal girl thought that the best way to spend a Saturday night was home with her parents — not just co-existing with them, but actually hanging out with them — we would have been looking for a bucket of pig’s blood.

In the Mainstream but Isolated

Daniel de Vise:

Victoria Miresso cannot button a shirt, match a sock or tell one school bus from another. Yet at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, she is expected to function much like any other sixth-grader, coping with class changes, algebra quizzes and lunchroom bullies.
Victoria’s parents say she is a victim of inclusion: a trend, in Montgomery County and across the nation, toward shutting down traditional special education classes and placing special-needs students in regular classrooms at neighborhood schools.
“At this point, we’re about halfway through the school year, and she hasn’t learned anything,” said Laura Johnson, her mother. “It’s not fair for her to go to school and sit there and be teased because she doesn’t understand what they’re teaching her.”
Montgomery school officials say Victoria is no victim. She is, however, one of the first generation of students who cannot attend secondary learning centers, a network of self-contained classrooms open to special education students at eight middle and high schools in the county since the 1970s. Montgomery school leaders decided in 2006 to phase out the centers, part of an ongoing shift of special-ed students and teachers out of separate classrooms and into the general school population.

US Eases No Child Sanctions

Maria Glod:

Sanctions would be eased for some schools that narrowly miss academic targets in a pilot program the Education Department announced yesterday, marking a significant shift for enforcement of the No Child Left Behind law.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, using her administrative authority, said she will allow 10 states to move away from the 2002 law’s “pass-fail” system, which makes no distinction between a school in which many students fail reading and math tests and one that misses targets because a few students fall short. She said the pilot will allow states to focus on schools with students that need the most help.

Put young children on DNA list, urge police

Mark Townsend & Anushka Asthana:

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain’s most senior police forensics expert.
Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.
‘If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,’ said Pugh. ‘You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.’
Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database – the largest in Europe – but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. ‘The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,’ Pugh told The Observer. However, he said the notion of universal sampling – everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database – is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.

Via Bruce Schneier.

Some missed gist of school choice report

Patrick Wolf & John Witte:

We released a set of five baseline reports on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program last month, the first new studies of the voucher program using individual student data since 1995. Since then, many stories and commentaries have been published. Some of those contained inaccurate, incomplete or misleading information.
First, our research project is supported by a large consortium of philanthropies with diverse positions regarding school choice but a uniform commitment to non-interference in the research. We would not conduct this research under any other conditions. Our funders include the Annie E. Casey, Joyce, Kern, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Robertson and Walton Family foundations.
We listed this complete set of funding organizations at the start of each of our five reports. Unfortunately, Alan J. Borsuk’s Feb. 26 Journal Sentinel story about the studies (“Voucher study finds parity,”) reported the names of only three of the six philanthropies. The omission created a false impression – subsequently repeated by Mary Bell (“Voucher school achievements are still not measurable,” March 8) – that the evaluation is primarily backed by “pro-voucher” foundations.
That is simply not true.
Second, no reliable conclusions about the effectiveness of the choice program can or should be drawn from these initial descriptive data. We provided that important guidance throughout our reports. Nevertheless, many commentators chose to ignore it.

My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor:

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

One of the most remarkable presentations I’ve seen.


At Harvard University, the Harvard Graduate School of Law is called Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Medicine is called Harvard Medical School, but Harvard Education School is called the Harvard Graduate School of Education—surely that indicates something…
In any case, Harvard Education School is kind enough to offer, on its website, an insight into the research interests of its faculty. Their centers for research include: “The Center on the Developing Child; Change Leadership Group; Chartering Practice Project; Civil Rights Project; Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education; Dynamic Development Laboratory; Everyday Antiracism Working Group; GoodWork Project; Harvard Family Research Project; Language Diversity & Literacy Development Research Group; National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL); NICHD Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development; Project IF; Project on the Next Generation of Teachers; Project Zero; Projects in Language Development; Project for Policy Innovation in Education; Public Education Leadership Project (PELP); and Understanding the Roots of Tolerance and Prejudice.”
The mission of some may be less clear. The “GoodWork®” Project explains that: “The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” There is no indication that they are interested in good academic homework. Project IF is about “Inventing the Future.” Project Zero is home to work on multiple intelligences, among other things.
If you dig down further into the research interests of individual faculty, also kindly provided on the site, you may have the same difficulty I do in finding anyone interested in the work of the schools in teaching math, science, history, literature and foreign languages. There may be exceptions, but the overall impression is that academic work, of the sort we are asking students to do in our schools, gets little attention.
There is concern for finding and retaining teachers, but not too much for seeing that they have the academic preparation to be successful in promoting the study of math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages among their students.


The Undercover Parent

Harlan Coben:

NOT long ago, friends of mine confessed over dinner that they had put spyware on their 15-year-old son’s computer so they could monitor all he did online. At first I was repelled at this invasion of privacy. Now, after doing a fair amount of research, I get it.
Make no mistake: If you put spyware on your computer, you have the ability to log every keystroke your child makes and thus a good portion of his or her private world. That’s what spyware is — at least the parental monitoring kind. You don’t have to be an expert to put it on your computer. You just download the software from a vendor and you will receive reports — weekly, daily, whatever — showing you everything your child is doing on the machine.
Scary. But a good idea. Most parents won’t even consider it.
Maybe it’s the word: spyware. It brings up associations of Dick Cheney sitting in a dark room, rubbing his hands together and reading your most private thoughts. But this isn’t the government we are talking about — this is your family. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. Loving parents are doing the surveillance here, not faceless bureaucrats. And most parents already monitor their children, watching over their home environment, their school.
Today’s overprotective parents fight their kids’ battles on the playground, berate coaches about playing time and fill out college applications — yet when it comes to chatting with pedophiles or watching beheadings or gambling away their entire life savings, then…then their children deserve independence?

Length of Suspension for Gun Threat Bewilders Pr. William Boy, Parents

Ian Shapira:

On Wednesday morning, instead of heading to Rosa Parks Elementary School in Prince William County, James Falletta clambered downstairs to his basement bedroom. He plopped onto his blue New York Giants bedspread and stared at his pet mouse, Ratatouille, clawing inside a cage.
James, an honor-roll fifth-grader, was not sick. He was starting the 10th day of a seemingly indefinite school suspension for a threat he said was made in self-defense. Late last month, James said, a bully stalked him and his younger brother on their way home from school. To ward him off, James said he was going to go home and get a gun.
That apparently ended the incident but began a 12-year-old’s hands-on lesson on zero-tolerance policies in today’s schools. Administrators, mindful of fatal shootings that have occurred on or near campuses across the country, say they must intervene swiftly and forcefully any time gun threats emerge.

Wait for Autism Care Outlasts Bill

Patrick Marley:

Cindy Brimacombe has known for almost two years that her son has autism, but she won’t be able to get him the full treatment he needs until next year because of a long waiting list.
Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature both had plans that would have helped Brimacombe and her 3 1/2 -year-old son, Max. But they ended their session last week without a compromise, guaranteeing that nothing will change until next year.
“It’s so sad,” the Oconomowoc mother said of the stalemate. “It’s so sad because these children have so many special gifts. . . . How can you deny these little ones help?”
Such is the nature of a Capitol under split control, where little gets done but lawmakers build up records they can tout on the campaign trail.

10 Signs of What Is Not a Crummy Poor-Kid School

Jay Matthews:

Two engaging books came out a year ago, each so compelling I planned a major column with guest commentators and debates and confetti and dancers and rock music. Then life intruded. I never got it together. Now my only face-saving option is to make these books the latest selections to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column’s way of heralding works that I never get around to reading when I should.
The books are ” ‘It’s Being Done’: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools” by Karin Chenoweth, and “Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools,” by Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner. My mistake was to see the two volumes as yin and yang, left and right, liberal and conservative, a distillation of the education wars, when they are in some ways complementary. So I will do Chenoweth’s book today and Nichols-Berliner in two weeks.
I need to issue a bias alert for ” ‘It’s Being Done.’ ” Chenoweth is a former Washington Post columnist whose work I have admired for many years. She said she was hired by the Achievement Alliance–a coalition of five educational organizations–to find and describe “schools where poor children and children of color do better than their peers in others schools.” She profiles several regular public schools that meet her criteria. But the most interesting part of the book is her description of a school she removed from her list, even though its test scores looked good.

Madison Parents Want Bilingual Education Through 8th Grade


A group of Madison parents want their children’s intensive Spanish lessons to continue past 5th grade.
Currently, Nuestro Mundo’s Dual Immersion Program is only available for K-5.
Last Saturday, parents presented a proposal to create Wisconsin’s first dual immersion middle school.
Classrooms would be split between native English and Spanish speakers.
Parents worry without a middle school, bilingual students will lose their language skills.

Teacher’s high standards help kids tackle math

Marty Roney:

Failure is not an option in Linda Jarzyniecki’s math classes. If Jarzyniecki needs to give a pep talk or threaten to call parents to get the job done, then so be it.
“Students come into my class hesitantly,” says Jarzyniecki (Jar-za-NEEKY), or “Mrs. J.,” who teaches advanced algebra, trigonometry and calculus at Greenville High. “I want to challenge my students, but I want them to experience some success so they don’t become discouraged and they remain in mathematics.”
Mrs. J. faces challenging demographics. Greenville High is a school with about 750 students in a rural central Alabama town of about 8,000. The median income for a family of four is about $25,000 a year, according to Census figures, and 69% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
“Despite the high poverty rate our children live with, many students are diligent, industrious young people who have a goal to complete a two- or four-year college or technical school,” she says. But they often feel pressure to work to help support the family.

Why Bother Having a Resume?

Seth Godin:

This is controversial, but here goes: I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.
Not just for my little internship, but in general. Great people shouldn’t have a resume.
Here’s why: A resume is an excuse to reject you. Once you send me your resume, I can say, “oh, they’re missing this or they’re missing that,” and boom, you’re out.
Having a resume begs for you to go into that big machine that looks for relevant keywords, and begs for you to get a job as a cog in a giant machine. Just more fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be fine for average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?
If you don’t have a resume, what do you have?

Growing Cheers for the Home-Schooled Team

Joe Drape:

Taber Spani, one of the best high school girls basketball players in the nation, holds hands with two opponents as a coach reads a Bible verse. It is the way each game in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships begins.
This is more than a postseason tournament for the 300 boys and girls teams from 19 states that have competed here over the past six days. As the stands packed with parents and the baselines overrun by small children attest, this is also a jamboree to celebrate faith and family.
“You build friendships here with other girls who know what it’s like to be self-motivated and disciplined and share your values,” said Spani, a junior who plays for the Metro Academy Mavericks of Olathe, Kan. “I wouldn’t trade this tournament for anything.”
Only a decade ago, home-school athletics was considered little more than organized recess for children without traditional classrooms. Now, home-school players are tracked by scouts, and dozens of them have accepted scholarships to colleges as small as Blue Mountain in Mississippi and as well known as Iowa State.

State science fair serves as showcase for young talent

Mark Johnson:

Toni Cattani had never been to a science fair. On Saturday morning, the 16-year-old junior from Kettle Moraine High School felt “completely terrified.”
Since eighth grade she’d been thinking about her project, the development of eyedrops that could replace contact lenses. She wears glasses but finds plastic contacts too uncomfortable. Some nights she would lie awake imagining possibilities for her research, things she could try. She would fall asleep at 3 a.m., wake at 5:30 and get ready for school.
Now she was sitting in a room with some of state’s finest young scientists. From across Wisconsin, 100 students had brought months and even years of research to Marquette University for the seventh annual Badger State Science and Engineering Fair.

School Budget Math Hard to Calculate as Property Values Fall

Jonathan Mummolo:

Loudoun Supervisor Susan Klimek Buckley understood how parents felt at a recent meeting, imploring county officials to fund the school board’s full budget request.
She got her start in county politics by doing the same thing.
“My whole citizen activism started with going to a public hearing in March of 2004 where I spoke in support of full funding of the school operating budget,” she said, recalling her three-minute address to a packed board room that earned her a modest ovation.

A Summary of April 1 School District Referendums

George Hesselberg:

In what has become a semi-annual exercise in public solicitation — some might call it survival — scores of the state’s 426 school districts will ask voters for more money April 1.
Forty-one districts will be holding referendums to issue bonds or exceed state-mandated revenue limits. The requests are in addition to the 14 school referendums in last month’s primary. (Of those, six passed and eight failed.)
The districts are not just asking for money to build schools. They need it to fix roofs, update textbooks, upgrade computers and, in some cases, just keep up the upkeep.
Administrators have led citizens, some querulous, others just curious, on tours of buildings to point out the leaks, the rust, the crumbling concrete.
In southwestern Wisconsin, six school districts have the unfortunate coincidence of asking for extra cash at the same time as the area technical college.

New report card for Madison middle schoolers draws praise, criticism

Andy Hall:

Congratulations, dear seventh grader, for nailing science class.
Your science grade this quarter is A, 4, 3, 3, M, S, R.
Now, let’s take a look at your English grade…
That’s a preview of how, beginning in the fall, parents of middle school students might read a new type of report card coming to the Madison School District.
The change will make Madison one of the first districts in Dane County to adopt middle school report cards based directly upon how well students are mastering the state’s standards that list what they’re supposed to learn in every subject.
In some ways, Madison’s change isn’t radical. The district is retaining traditional report card letter grades. And the district’s elementary students, like many around the state, already receive report cards based upon the state’s academic standards.
The shift is being met, however with a mixture of criticism and hope.

Related: Madison Middle School Report Card/Homework Assessment Proposed Changes.

Dual Enrollment Grows: Pennsylvania High School Students Take College Classes via State Program

Any Sostek:

Sitting in the back row of her South Fayette High School economics class, Emily Cord waved off her teacher as he passed out voter-registration cards.
“I’m not 18 till June,” she said.
An hour later, however, she was sitting in ECO102, Principles of Macroeconomics, at Community College of Allegheny County, with classmates beyond not just the voting age but the drinking age.
Emily is one of thousands of Pennsylvania students enrolled in both high school and college classes through the state’s dual enrollment program, which pays part of the college tuition.
A state report released last month notes “extraordinary demand and interest on the part of students” in the program. Since the dual enrollment program started in the 2005-06 school year, state funding has doubled, to $10 million for the current school year.
In the 2006-07 school year, the number of participants increased 69 percent from the previous year, from 7,270 students to 12,267 students statewide.


Can You Read as Well as a Fifth Grader? Check the Formula

Carl Bialik:

If you’ve checked the grammar of a Microsoft Word document, you may have encountered a baffling number. The readability formula purports to represent the text’s appropriate grade level. But it has its roots in research from 60 years ago.
Before computers, reading researchers attempted to quantify the ease of a work of writing using short excerpts and simple formulas. Despite computing advances, Word still follows the same model: It multiplies 0.39 by the average number of words per sentence, adds that to 11.8 times the average number of syllables per word, and subtracts 15.59 from the total. The result is the supposed minimum grade level of readers who can handle the text in question.
Similar formulas are used by textbook publishers and in dozens of states’ guidelines for insurance policies.

College Admissions: How Involved Should Parents Get?

Sue Shellenbarger:

After bending her work schedule to help her older daughter apply to college a few years ago, Suzanne Ducharme knew the admissions competition looming for her younger daughter would be tougher. So as her second daughter neared college, Ms. Ducharme, a New York human-resources manager, did what seemed the only sensible thing: She quit her job, she says, “to be here full time” with her daughter as she applied.
You’ve heard of parents quitting work to care for babies or wayward teens. Now they’re quitting — or considering doing so — to help their kids get into college.
As the biggest high-school graduating class in history — the class of 2009 — begins the college-search process, parents are abuzz over how to help. One mother of a high schooler, a manager for a New York financial-information concern, says friends are pressuring her to devote full time to the college search. With other parents on the case 24/7, she says, “they argue that by working, I’m putting my daughter at a disadvantage in today’s hypercompetitive college-admissions game.”

Virtual schools measure passes

Stacy Forster & Patrick Marley:

The Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a bill protecting virtual schools Tuesday – a compromise measure Gov. Jim Doyle and other key Democrats support.
The bill was passed in a flurry of activity as the Legislature winds down the regular session that ends Thursday. The Assembly also approved a bill to remove teacher residency requirements in Milwaukee, and the Senate passed a bill requiring new police officers to undergo psychological exams.
Democrats in the Assembly were unsuccessful in attempting to force a vote on the Great Lakes compact.
Tuesday also marked the all-but-certain death of a bill requiring the state to provide information about involuntary mental health commitments to a federal database checked for gun purchases. Supporters of the measure, including Doyle, said the bill was necessary to help avoid shootings like the one last year at Virginia Tech.
The virtual schools bill passed 96-1 Tuesday; Rep. Dave Travis (D-Waunakee) voted against it. The agreement was reached after Doyle said he would sign a bill on virtual schools only if it capped enrollment.

Related editorial.

Celebrity Culture Harms Pupils


Children’s educational aspirations risk being damaged by the cult of celebrity, teachers leaders have warned.
Teachers fear their pupils’ obsessions with footballers, pop stars and actors are affecting their progress in school, and limiting their career aspirations.
Some 60% of teachers said their pupils most aspired to be David Beckham, in a survey of teachers for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
More than a third said pupils wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous.
Some 32% of the 304 teachers quizzed said their pupils modelled themselves on heiress Paris Hilton.

Milwaukee’s School Choice: Preliminary Analysis Gives Average Grades

Anneliese Dickman:

Back in 2001, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist summarized his case for school choice by stating: “Vouchers work. They don’t hurt taxpayers, and they encourage public schools to do better.”
Norquist’s conviction was strongly supported by school choice proponents and vociferously refuted by opponents. All the while, the Public Policy Forum cautioned that very little data existed to either support or refute him.
Now, for the first time in over a decade, data are available to shed light on the efficacy and effectiveness of Milwaukee’s private school voucher program. An ambitious five-year longitudinal study is under way to evaluate the school choice program and compare its performance to Milwaukee Public Schools. Last month’s research reports, the study’s first, provide us with the long-elusive data.
As expected, school choice proponents and opponents each have come away with their own distinct interpretations of this data. However, certain conclusions are inescapable.
First, the new findings have reframed the policy debate over school choice, pulling it away from the original goals of school choice proponents. There was a time when school choice was touted as a panacea, as the competitive leverage the public schools needed to improve, as a means to empower parents and save low-income students from bad schools. With the latest data, however, the Milwaukee voucher program is now simply portrayed as a popular program that pleases parents and performs at least as well as MPS.

Wisconsin High School Graduation Data Comparison

Amy Hetzner:

According to an independent research group, Wisconsin has the nation’s 11th highest graduation rate. However, the rate reported by the group is lower than estimates by the state Department of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education.
That and other facts about the state’s schools are included in a new report card released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy organization that has pushed hard in recent years to increase the rigor of the nation’s secondary schools. (One of the members of the organization’s governing board, by the way, is Clinton-era U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.)
Although apparently updated, the report includes mostly recycled data, including a reference to the controversial notion that some of Wisconsin’s schools are “dropout factories” where 60% of students fail to reach 12th grade after four years.

Waukesha West makes it 7 straight

Amy Hetzner:

Waukesha West High School’s Academic Decathlon team marched to a seventh straight state championship Tuesday, aided by veteran and new teammates as well as a seasoned coach.
The team won in a dominating fashion. Its overall score of 52,111 out of a possible 60,000 points set a state record. Nearly 10,000 points separated West from the second-place team from Sun Prairie High School.
“All our hard work has finally paid off,” said West student David Haughney. “It’s just an exhilarating feeling. It’s awesome. It’s mind-blowing.”
The latest win sends the team to California for the national championships at the end of next month. Waiting for them is a team from Moorpark High School, a California school that West beat at the national event in 2002 and placed second behind the following year.

Madison West High Bids Adieu to Their Writing Lab

Reuben Henriques:

Today, my English teacher shared with our class the quite saddening news that the West High Writing Lab [Ask | clusty | google | Live | Yahoo], a venerable institution of many years, is slated to be cut next year as part of the annual round of budgeting. For those on this listserv who don’t know, the Writing Lab provides a place for students of all grades and abilities to conference one-on-one with an English teacher about their work. Everyone — from the freshman completely lost on how to write his first literary analysis to the AWW alum who wants to run her college application essay by someone — is welcome to stop by during three or four hours of the day as well as before school, during lunch, and after school. I know that in my four years at West, I’ve found this an immeasurably useful resource, not only to help me polish papers for my classes, but also as a way to get editing help on college essays and other extracurricular writing. And judging by the reaction in my English class, I’m far from alone.
Which is why I am so distressed by this development. I’ve always considered the English department, by and large, as one of West’s finest. The array of classes at every ability level is wonderful, and the fact that I’ve been able to take IWW and AWW — two classes designed solely to improve my writing itself — has been great. These classes do a fabulous job of teaching students to write — but an important part of writing well is being able to receive feedback on that writing, being able to dialogue with someone about it, and then being able to “have another swing at things.” But of course, it’s simply impossible for a teacher in any English class to meet, one-on-one, with every student. The Writing Lab has provided a great way for students to ensure that they will have this valuable opportunity.

It would be interesting to find out what’s happening with the high school budget allocations. The only information I’ve found on the 2008-2009 MMSD Budget is this timeline, which mentions that “Allocations & Formula $ to Buildings” occurred on March 5, 2008. The School Board is not scheduled to see the balanced budget until April 3, 2008.

District critical of costs to settle special education litigation

Alan Borsuk:

Private negotiations to settle a lawsuit over how Milwaukee Public Schools handles special education students broke into the open Thursday when MPS rejected a proposal that could extend such services to thousands of students who are suspended from school frequently or held back a grade.
With harsh words particularly for the state Department of Public Instruction, MPS leaders said the proposed settlement could cost tens of millions of dollars, harm the education of students who don’t need special education services and interfere with the pursuit of broader goals for improving MPS.
But Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, an attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, which brought the suit in 2001, said the agreement was a “fantastic” opportunity for MPS and that MPS had not negotiated in good faith. He said it was frustration with MPS negotiators that led his organization and DPI to reach a separate settlement and to demand MPS take it or leave it.
The terms of the settlement would put special education in MPS under the control of an outside authority; require MPS to make major improvements in identifying students who need special education services; and potentially extend services to thousands of students.

High school students to test their ingenuity in hard-charging robotic competition

Stanley Miller II:

A few of the robots charged out of their starting positions as if fired from cannons, blazing across the track, extending wiry metal arms and slapping huge, brightly colored balls off a catwalk hovering above.
Some robots limped a few feet before sputtering to a stop. Others collided with their mechanical teammates, spinning out of control.
It’s a good thing Thursday was just practice.
The idea of battling robots might conjure up images of smashing and bashing, but at the FIRST Wisconsin Regional Robotics Competition today and Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Arena, it’s all about technology and teamwork.
Sixty high school squads from nine states are competing, including 27 from Wisconsin. The event is free and open to everyone, and the players promise to put on a show.

Learn more here.

Contraband candy = Skittles suspension


Contraband candy has led to big trouble for an eighth-grade honors student in Connecticut.
Michael Sheridan was stripped of his title as class vice president, barred from attending an honors student dinner and suspended for a day after buying a bag of Skittles from a classmate.
School spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo says the New Haven school system banned candy sales in 2003 as part of a district wide school wellness policy.
Michael’s suspension has been reduced from three days to one, but he has not been reinstated as class vice president.

Joanne has more.

“Why Yes, it is My Job”

Ms. Cornelius:

Darling PreTeenDaughter:
Since you asked, yes, I AM the “meanest” mother of all your friends’ mothers. As you can see, this doesn’t bother me. Not because I am mean. Because I love you. That doesn’t mean that you have to be thrilled about every decision I make.
Yes, that embarrasses you. But not as much as if I walked around in public with my finger up my nose to the first knuckle, or wearing a muumuu with sandals and hairy legs, or with dirty hair and a cigarette hanging from my lip.
You will NOT wear the word “Juicy” across your behind– temporarily or permanently.
You WILL ingest protein of some kind each day.
You will NOT raise your voice to your parents in public– and even when you do it in private, there will be consequences.
You WILL read before you get to watch TV.

Janesville School Board, Teachers Union Release Contract Details


Late Monday night, negotiators for the Janesville School Board and teachers union reached a tentative contract agreement.
Today, they made the details of that contract public.
It took them a year to get to this point.
“This long and stressful process has a positive and a big sigh of relief,” School Board member Amy Rashkin said.
“Everyone made sacrifices and I think it was well worth it,” Janesville Education Association President Sam Loizzo said.
Big points reached in the agreement were health care and in-service hours for teachers.
Instead of 2 days per month of in-service, they now have one.
“We agreed to make premium share payments ranging from $17 to $115 a month,” JEA negotiator Dr. David Parr said.

Teen STD Rates Cause for Concern, Not Panic

Jacob Goldstein:

One in four American women between the ages of 14 and 19 has a sexually transmitted disease, according to the first national study to look at their combined prevalence, the CDC said.
That figure — alarming on its face — is worth a closer look.
The majority of those cases are infections with strains of a virus, human papillomavirus, that are associated with genital warts and cancer. But most people who get infected with HPV never know it, because the virus goes away without causing any health problems. “It is important to realize that most HPV infections clear on their own,” noted a summary of the study that the CDC emailed to us.
Indeed, several common infections lumped into the big bin labeled “STD” can have mild or no effects on many patients — an issue that has prompted some leaders in the field to call for a dialing back of the nomenclature. The home page of the American Social Health Association says:

The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Program


The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program helps Madison school kids understand where food really comes from.
Joe LaBarbera takes us on a journey that follows some of the students to the farm where some of it grows.
Doug Wubben is a project coordinator for Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch — working to give kids their first real taste of life on the farm — and a lesson in the first link of the food chain that eventually leads to their plate.
While this is about bringing the kids to the farm – sometimes they’ll actually bring farmers into the classroom.
“This year, and also last year, we had a couple farmer educators come out and they did some workshops in the classroom,” Teacher Marissa Carr-Flowers says.
These kids are learning how to plant seeds, grow food and spend a day away from their classroom. make no mistake — they are still learning.

Madison school board candidates discus the Anthony Hirsch case and school boundaries

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Hmm. This is interesting. To varying degrees, both Madison school board candidates express unease with the school district’s failure to report a suspected sex offender to state authorities.
Ed Hughes, who is running unopposed for Seat 7, raises the most questions, but Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, also is critical.
On the other hand, both support the Madison school board’s recent decision on school boundaries, and both Passman and Hughes praise a committee’s recent report on school names.
Here’s what we asked the two candidates this week.


Gifted Kids Blog: Unwrapping the Gifted

Tamara Fisher:

I have a pet peeve. Well, my sister would tell you that I have more than one pet peeve … but when it comes to the education of gifted children, there’s something that really irritates me. I have a few examples that will help me to explain and illustrate…
A month or two ago, a tiny article appeared deep in an area newspaper with the headline, “Chancellor wants math, science program for elite high schoolers.” The article stated that the chancellor at Montana Tech (an excellent engineering, math, science, and mining school) is considering creating a residential program for about 40 of Montana’s top math and science students. They would be dual enrolled in high school and college for the two year program. The students would be selected based on test scores, interviews, and recommendations, and would have to be Montana residents at least 15 years old. An anonymous donor is willing to help significantly with the program’s costs.
While many, if not most, of you live in states where Governor’s Schools and other such similar options are available for some of your gifted students, nothing of the sort exists here in Montana. To my knowledge, this would be the first option of its kind in my state.
I excitedly read the little article until I came upon the last paragraph. And that’s when my ears started steaming: “Concerns include the effect on local school districts if their top students transferred to the program at Tech. Districts’ financial support is based partly on the size of enrollment, and outstanding students often help to boost schools’ composite scores on standardized tests.”

RSS feed

“America’s Math Education System is Broken”

Maria Glod:

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel was convened by President Bush in April 2006 to address concerns that many of today’s students lack the math know-how needed to become tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. The 24-member panel of mathematicians and education experts announced recommendations to improve instruction and make better textbooks and even called on researchers to find ways to combat “mathematics anxiety.”
Larry R. Faulkner, panel chairman and former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said the country needs to make changes to stay competitive in an increasingly global economy. He noted that many U.S. companies draw skilled workers from overseas, a pool he said is drying out as opportunities in other countries improve.
“The question is, are we going to be able to get the talent?” Faulkner said in a briefing before the report’s release. “And it’s not just a question of economic competitiveness. In the end, it’s a question of whether, as a nation, we have enough technical prowess to assure our own security.”

Google News. Math Forum audio / video.
Joanne rounds up a few more links.

At L.A. school, Singapore math has added value

Mitchell Landsberg:

In 2005, just 45% of the fifth-graders at Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood scored at grade level on a standardized state test. In 2006, that figure rose to 76%. What was the difference?
If you answered 31 percentage points, you are correct. You could also express it as a 69% increase.
But there is another, more intriguing answer: The difference between the two years may have been Singapore math.
At the start of the 2005-06 school year, Ramona began using textbooks developed for use in Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state whose pupils consistently rank No. 1 in international math comparisons. Ramona’s math scores soared.
“It’s wonderful,” said Principal Susan Arcaris. “Seven out of 10 of the students in our school are proficient or better in math, and that’s pretty startling when you consider that this is an inner-city, Title 1 school.”
Ramona easily qualifies for federal Title 1 funds, which are intended to alleviate the effects of poverty. Nine of every 10 students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. For the most part, these are the children of immigrants, the majority from Central America, some from Armenia. Nearly six in 10 students speak English as a second language.

Joanne has more.

Life Expectancy Tied to Education

Steven Reinberg:

In U.S., college-educated live longer than those who only finish high school, study finds
Life expectancy in the United States is on the increase, but only among people with more than 12 years of education, a new study finds.
In fact, those with more than 12 years of education — more than a high school diploma — can expect to live to 82; for those with 12 or fewer years of education, life expectancy is 75.
“If you look in recent decades, you will find that life expectancy has been increasing, which is good, but when you split this out by better-educated groups, the life expectancy gained is really occurring much more so in the better-educated groups,” said lead researcher Ellen R. Meara, an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
“The puzzle is why we have been successful in extending life span for some groups. Why haven’t we been successful in getting that for less advantaged groups?” Meara said.
The answer may lie with tobacco, the study found.

Waukesha Restores Gifted Program Chairperson

Amy Hetzner:

Taking advantage of a $700,000 saving from its newly settled teachers contract, the School Board on Wednesday reinstated the School District’s chairperson in charge of gifted education for the 2008-’09 school year, a position it voted in January to cut.
Retention of the leadership post was done at the urging of parents of gifted and talented students, who argued that the district might otherwise violate state law requiring school systems to designate someone to oversee such programming for students.
The chairperson is the district’s last employee solely devoted to gifted education in the district, following the board’s elimination of its gifted teaching staff for the current school year. Keeping the position is expected to cost the district about $100,000.
In addition to reinstating the post for next school year, School Board members urged administrators to advance a proposal to distribute $2,000 to each district school as stipends for advocates who could work with parents and teachers on issues related to gifted education.

College Admissions: How Involved Should Parents Get?

Sue Shellenbarger:

After bending her work schedule to help her older daughter apply to college a few years ago, Suzanne Ducharme knew the admissions competition looming for her younger daughter would be tougher. So as her second daughter neared college, Ms. Ducharme, a New York human-resources manager, did what seemed the only sensible thing: She quit her job, she says, “to be here full time” with her daughter as she applied.
You’ve heard of parents quitting work to care for babies or wayward teens. Now they’re quitting — or considering doing so — to help their kids get into college.
As the biggest high-school graduating class in history — the class of 2009 — begins the college-search process, parents are abuzz over how to help. One mother of a high schooler, a manager for a New York financial-information concern, says friends are pressuring her to devote full time to the college search. With other parents on the case 24/7, she says, “they argue that by working, I’m putting my daughter at a disadvantage in today’s hypercompetitive college-admissions game.”

Officials increase security at Toki Middle School

Andy Hall:

Madison school officials on Tuesday said they ‘re strengthening security at Toki Middle School to calm concerns from staff members and parents that the building is becoming too chaotic.
Beginning today, Toki will get a second security guard and also will get a dean of students to assist with discipline problems. The guard is being transferred from Memorial High School, while the dean of students is an administrative intern who has served at La Follette High School.
“I think very shortly Toki will get back on its feet, ” said Pam Nash, the Madison School District ‘s assistant superintendent overseeing middle and high schools.
The moves come a week after about 100 parents, school staff members and top district officials attended an emotional, three-hour Parent Teacher Organization meeting at which speakers expressed fears about safety and discipline at the West Side school.

via Madison Parents’ School Safety Site.

Police were called to Toki 107 times last school year for incidents that included 17 disturbances, 11 batteries, five weapons offenses and one arson, WISC-TV reported.
So far this year, police have been called to 26 incidents. The district security chief said the school is safe, though, and he warned the numbers can be misleading.
There was no way to compare those numbers to police calls at other Madison middle schools because the district doesn’t keep that data itself. But the district security chief said they are working on that.
Toki PTO President Betsy Reck said “it’s a start,” but she said she believe there needs to be a clearly defined “behavior plan” posted immediately that shows appropriate behaviors and the consequences if they are not followed.
Reck said she wants consistent consequences applied to negative behavior.

California Home Schoolers Get the Heave-Ho


An appellate court in California recently ruled that parents who home school their kids may be breaking the law. The decision requires parents to have filed paperwork to run their own private school, or to have enrolled their kids in a satellite school or to have credentialed tutors to do the teaching.
Luis Huerta, an assistant professor of education and public policy at Columbia University, says the decision could have massive implications not just for the nation’s home schoolers, but for privacy advocates and future Supreme Court decision-making.
It’s difficult to give a snapshot of the people who home school in the United States, Huerta says. “It’s an elusive number, and it’s very difficult to track them down,” he says. “If they chose to home school, they’ve chosen not to report to the state.” He says there are probably 1.2 million children taught at home in the United States, up from 600,000 in 1996, a doubling in a little more than 10 years.

School is the “Last Moral Force”

Sean Coughlan:

Poor parenting and the erosion of family life are leaving schools as the only moral framework in many children’s lives, says a head teachers’ leader.
Schools were increasingly expected to “fill the vacuum”, John Dunford told the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference, in Brighton.
They now sometimes had to teach social skills such as eating a meal together.
“Schools have a much stronger role in bringing up children than in previous years,” Dr Dunford said.

Monona Grove considers artificial turf

Gena Kittner:

The Monona Grove School District is considering artificial turf to resolve long-standing problems with its high school field.
The field, which hosts girls and boys soccer and pee wee, youth and high school football, is overused, often resulting in a muddy, damaged mess before the end of the season.
“It ‘s not so much the pressure we put on it, (but) we have no time for maintenance, ” said Jeff Schreiner, activities director for the Monona Grove School District.

How to Fix K-12 Education

David Bessoud:

This month, I want to use this forum to publicize a report that came out last fall with solid advice for how to improve our schools. As we think about K-12 mathematics education, as we engage in the debate of what should succeed No Child Left Behind, I believe that this report provides a useful, research-based framework in which to situate that debate. And I believe that this report has implications for how we think about mathematics teaching in our colleges and universities, a topic to which I shall return in later columns.
The report in question was issued by McKinsey & Company in September, 2007, How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top [1]. Their procedure was straight-forward. They took the ten top-performing countries according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, and asked what practices are common among them. They tested their conclusions by comparing these practices with those in the US school systems that have seen the most dramatic increase in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or TIMSS scores or have been consistent finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education. These school systems are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Ohio.
None of their conclusions should be surprising. The three practices that they identified are on most people’s lists of what they would like to see. What is eye-opening is how effective these practices can be and how important it is to focus on them. In my own paraphrase, they are

  1. Recruit teachers from among the most highly literate and numerate college students.
  2. Support teachers with continual coaching, peer-mentoring, and professional development.
  3. Have clear standards for system performance, intervene quickly and effectively when problems arise, and allocate resources so that those with the greatest need get the most support.

Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships

Bill Pennington
At youth sporting events, the sidelines have become the ritual community meeting place, where families sit in rows of folding chairs aligned like church pews. These congregations are diverse in spirit but unified by one gospel: heaven is your child receiving a college athletic scholarship.
Parents sacrifice weekends and vacations to tournaments and specialty camps, spending thousands each year in this quest for the holy grail.
But the expectations of parents and athletes can differ sharply from the financial and cultural realities of college athletics, according to an analysis by The New York Times of previously undisclosed data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and interviews with dozens of college officials.
Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

Doyle announces plan to prevent deficit

Patrick Marley and Stacy Forster:

Gov. Jim Doyle today offered a $527 million package to repair the state budget with cuts and delays to new programs, as well as a new tax on hospitals and a transfer of $243 million from the state’s transportation fund.
The budget that runs through mid-2009 is $650 million short, though Doyle already whittled that down through austerity measures, including delaying paying off some debt.
The budget is short because the slumping economy has led the state to collect fewer taxes than projected.
“Just like any real solution to a budget gap, this plan cuts spending and looks for good sources of revenue,” Doyle said, adding that it protects such priorities as health care, education and job creation.
Although Doyle said he wanted to avoid some of last year’s budget fights, he reopened one by introducing the tax on hospital revenue.

Should We Put the Brakes on Advanced Placement Growth?

Jay Matthews:

Patrick Mattimore — lawyer, teacher and freelance journalist — is one of the most insightful writers about schools I know. So when he published a piece in Education Week criticizing the rapid growth in Advanced Placement courses in the country, I read it carefully and asked him to discuss it with me in this column. Mattimore is not only an astute judge of AP policy, but until recently, he was an AP Psychology teacher in San Francisco. He knows the territory like few others, and unlike many people in the debate over how to use AP, he has accomplished the rare feat of changing his mind after discovering facts at odds with his views.
His March 5 Ed Week commentary points out that if you look at all high school graduates, the percentage taking and passing AP exams is increasing. But if you look at the percentage of exams with passing grades — 3 or above on the 5-point tests — that is declining in many subjects. To Mattimore, this means the program is growing too fast — a 10 percent jump every year in the number of exams taken. He says the rapid expansion ought to be reined in until school systems improve instruction in lower grades so students are better prepared for the rigors of AP.
“The College Board would like to continue the expansion of the AP program, and suggests that equity demands all students have access to the most advanced instruction high schools can provide,” he writes. “The back story of AP expansion, however, is not that it is a means of benefiting minorities, but that it has become an out-of-control shootout for top students vying for spots at selective colleges. Before we invest more dollars in expanding the Advanced Placement program, we must provide the pre-AP infrastructure in our middle schools to ensure that students are prepared to meet the challenges of the program. Otherwise, we can expect that our AP failure rates will continue to climb.”

On Teacher Unions: Teaching Change

Andrew Rotherham:

WHEN teachers at two Denver public schools demanded more control over their work days, they ran into opposition from a seemingly odd place: their union. The teachers wanted to be able to make decisions about how time was used, hiring and even pay. But this ran afoul of the teachers’ contract. After a fight, last month the union backed down — but not before the episode put a spotlight on the biggest challenge and opportunity facing teachers’ unions today.
While laws like No Child Left Behind take the rhetorical punches for being a straitjacket on schools, it is actually union contracts that have the greatest effect over what teachers can and cannot do. These contracts can cover everything from big-ticket items like pay and health care coverage to the amount of time that teachers can spend on various activities.
Reformers have long argued that this is an impediment to effective schools. Now, increasingly, they are joined by a powerful ally: frustrated teachers. In addition to Denver, in the past year teachers in Los Angeles also sought more control at the school level, and found themselves at odds with their union.

MUAE “Conversation With the Candidates”

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) will be hosting a “Conversation With the Madison School Board Candidates” on Tuesday, March 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Wright Middle School LMC, 1313 Fish Hatchery Road. Marjorie Passman and Ed Hughes are running for Seats 6 and 7, respectively. Both are running unopposed. Please join us for a relaxed and productive dialogue, sans political sparring. Bring your questions, comments, concerns and ideas. The candidates are as eager to listen as they are to speak.
As an introduction to the candidates —
Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week One: http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=21758

Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week Two: http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=21825
Marjorie Passman’s website: http://marjpassmanforschoolboard.com/

Ed Hughes’s website: http://www.edhughesforschoolboard.com/
All are welcome!

On Teacher Unions: Educators or Kingmakers?

David White:

IF the Democratic race is settled at the party’s convention this summer — not unlikely, given Hillary Clinton’s victories over Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas — certain delegate constituencies are going to be the object of much affection from the candidates. Most prominent among these is the delegate and superdelegate bloc affiliated with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions. In 2004, more than 400 regular delegates to the convention were members of the two unions, making up a group bigger than every state delegation except California’s.
Good news for the unions, however, might not be good news for education. The union agenda has often run counter to the interests of students and teachers alike.
Take those collective bargaining agreements that the unions have negotiated in school districts across the nation. As Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford, demonstrated, these agreements have hampered student performance in California. Why? Because they protect ineffective teachers — at the expense of everyone else.
Or consider performance-based pay. Forty percent of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years on the job — in some measure because they don’t stand to gain the same performance-based pay raises available to their private-sector counterparts. Merit pay would help public schools retain good teachers by paying them more. But the unions have fought against such measures.

Maryland District Plans Teacher Incentive Pay Pilot Program

Nelson Hernandez:

Prince George’s County education and labor leaders unveiled a much-anticipated pilot program yesterday that will offer teachers and administrators at 12 schools incentive pay for good performance.
The voluntary program, called Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers, or FIRST, will allow teachers to make as much as $10,000 above base salary for improving the performance of their students, teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and participating in evaluations and professional development. Principals and assistant principals will be able to make up to $12,500 and $11,000, respectively.
County education leaders hope the offer of extra pay will help Prince George’s recruit talented teachers and attract the best teachers and administrators to academically struggling schools. The extra pay would represent a sizable bump for a starting teacher salary of about $41,000.
Although labor organizations across the country have often opposed pay-for-performance programs, saying they can be imposed unfairly by management, union leaders at yesterday’s news conference said that they like the voluntary nature of the county’s program and that they had been invited to help design it from the beginning.

Math Suggests College Frenzy Will Soon Ease

Alan Finder:

High school seniors nationwide are anxiously awaiting the verdicts from the colleges of their choice later this month. But though it may not be of much solace to them, in just a few years the admissions frenzy is likely to ease. It’s simply a matter of demographics.
Projections show that by next year or the year after, the annual number of high school graduates in the United States will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb. The number is then expected to decline until about 2015. Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students probably finding it easier to get into college.
“For the high school graduate, this becomes a buyers’ market,” said Daniel M. Fogel, president of the University of Vermont.
That won’t help Charlie Cotton, a senior at Madison High School in New Jersey. He has the grades and scores to aim for the nation’s elite universities, yet in the hyper-competitive world of college admissions, his chances of winning a spot at his top picks — like Middlebury, Dartmouth and Oberlin — are highly uncertain. When his sister, Emma, who is in eighth grade, applies to college, she is expected to face a less frantic landscape with fewer rivals.

Second Thoughts on Zero Tolerance Policies

Susan Lampert Smith:

The biggest problem with “zero tolerance ” policies is that they require zero thought.
A kid smokes pot or drinks on school property? Bam! They ‘re out for a year.
Simple, right? Even a kid could understand it. Except, sometimes, teenagers aren ‘t so great about thinking through the consequences.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a group of Marshall Middle School girls expelled for a year for alleged marijuana use. The district offers no services to expelled students, and one family couldn ‘t find another public school that would take their daughter.
Since then, I ‘ve heard similar stories. In one district, the parents didn ‘t see the expulsion file until the hearing. It was full of errors, even calling their daughter by a wrong first name, but still the School Board used the “investigation ” to kick her out for a year.
In another district, a middle schooler was expelled for a year for letting her friend try a prescription pill. Now, her mother writes, the girl is a “pariah ” who must apply for permission to be on school grounds for special events.
In still another, the parents couldn ‘t afford private school, and their young teen has been without any formal education for a year.
A teacher also wrote, questioning why I think the schools should be lenient to students who break clear rules.
Actually, I don ‘t. I ‘m all in favor of punishment. But do we as a society really want teens out of school for a year? Some may never come back. And then there are fairness issues. Many times, these kids come from poor families that don ‘t hire lawyers like wealthier ones would. And often, when kids are doing bad things at school, it ‘s because bad things are happening at home.

Badger Spelling Bee Champ

Pat Simms:

Fourteen-year-old Kara Walla of Hales Corners gave God a lot of credit for her victory Saturday in the 2008 Badger State Spelling Bee.
God and good genes.
Home-schooled by her parents with her four siblings, the teenager comes from a family of spellers — her father, Wade, placed ninth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1982 representing Montana, and her aunt, Theresa Walla, came in 27th in the national contest in 1976.
After 16 rounds of spelling against 48 other contenders at Monona Grove High School, Kara carved her own place in the family legacy by spelling ampicillin (an antibiotic).
Before that, she correctly spelled the Greek word echinoderm (a category of marine animal), which 12-year-old Sam Maki of Owen had missed. Third was Natalie LaPointe of Bayfield, who missed the word disciform (of round or oval shape).
Madison city champion Erich Wegenke went out in the fourth round on the word sassafras.

Channel3000 has more.

SAGE Thoughts

TJ Mertz:

The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) contracts for MMSD schools will be on the agenda at Monday’s (3-10-2008) Special Board of Education Workshop meeting. I have mixed feelings about the SAGE program because of the choices it forces school district to make.

A serious overhaul of the school funding system is needed and one of the things that should be addressed are the problems with SAGE. Most of the proposals I’ve seen (Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, School Finance Network, Alan Odden…) would minimize or eliminate some of the issues discussed below.

Education Expenditure of Government, total, as Percent of Gross National Income

UNdata has published some interesting data sets, including those that compare US education spending with other countries. Here’s a few data points:

United States: 2003 = 5.8%
United Kingdom 2003 = 5.4%
Switzerland 2003 = 5.1%
Singapore 2001 = 3.7%
New Zealand 2003 = 7.1%
Mexico 2003 = 5.9%
Korea 2003 = 4.6%
Japan 2003 = 3.6%
France 2003 = 6%
Germany 2002 = 4.8%
India 2003 = 3.3%
Denmark 2003 = 8.5%

Freedom Means Responsibility

George McGovern:

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that “‘one-size-fits all’ rules for business ignore the reality of the market place.” Today I’m watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.
Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.
With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.
There’s no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market.

About George McGovern.

NYT: We Need National Teen Licensing Laws

Robert Farago:

I’m a little confused about The New York Times’ position regarding states’ rights. On one hand, it’s down with California’s desire to enact CO2 emissions regulations that trump national standards. On the other hand, when it comes to teen licensing, it asserts “What the country needs is a uniform set of rules, based on the soundest research. That is the best way to keep teenage drivers, and everyone who shares the roads with them, safer.” The Old Gray Lady argues that “Congress flexed its muscle in the mid-1980s and pressed states to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21. More recently, it did so to pass tougher drunken driving laws. The country’s highways are safer for those efforts. Congress now needs to do the same for teenage driving.” To that end, the paper supports Senator Chris Dodd’s proposal to withhold federal highway funds from states that refuse to set the minimum driving age at 16 and adopt graduated licensing for 16- and 17-year-olds (including nighttime and passenger restrictions).

What you usually don’t hear about WEAC

Thomas Zachek:

It’s amazing how much some people dislike WEAC.
One e-mailer called it a “collective” (like the Borg?). Another said teachers love unionization “because you can’t think for yourselves!”
The Wisconsin Education Association Council has never told me how to think or what to teach. WEAC may take positions on issues, but its members can think what they want – and do. I have attended at least five WEAC Representative Assemblies, and I assure you that the debate is vigorous and disagreement is extensive.
I wonder which organizations those e-mailers belong to that might encourage free thinking and not allegiance to dogma from on high. The Republican Party perhaps? The National Rifle Association? The Catholic Church?
News media repeatedly refer to the “powerful teachers union” as if it’s somehow emptying our pockets and preventing life from being beautiful. Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford), whose newsletters used to cite a “WEAC Atrocity of the Month,” wrote that the union influences every education decision in the state.

Snow – seen “through my eyes as a first year principal at Marquette”

Andrea Kreft:

welcome you to see through my eyes as a first year principal at Marquette Elementary.
Right now I see snow: a record amount of snow!
It covers our staff’s cars in the parking lot, our playground and our students. It is the time of year when the shine on the floors turns to a dull, salty dust and a scattering of wet boots lay “close to” lockers in the halls. No wonder the Lost and Found bin overflows so quickly.
We’ve rounded the corner into the second semester and I’ve learned a lot about snow and how our attention clings to what the weather brings. It begins with a continuing debate in determining where snow boots and pants need to be worn on the playground.
With every new layer of snow, I am thankful for the staff that fashion the blaze orange vests and assist in addressing these questions to keep our students safe and as dry as possible outside.

Wisconsin teenagers compete for academic honors

Anita Clark:

After months of practice and grueling drills, 180 Wisconsin teenagers will converge on Madison next week to face tough competition.
For these young people, the contests are academic, not athletic. They’ll be competing in the finals of the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon, which this year includes Dane County teams from McFarland and Sun Prairie high schools.
It’s among a growing number of academic extracurricular activities that help students flex their brains, polish their skills and pump up pride in their schools and communities.

Amy Hetzner has more:

After six straight state championship years, with nearly half of last year’s winning team returning, what worries could face Waukesha West High School’s Academic Decathlon team going into next week’s state competition?
“We talk about the New England Patriots,” West’s veteran decathlon coach Duane Stein said. “We think anybody can fall on any day.”
So the nine members of West’s team have been staying late at school and studying in their spare time to try to avoid repeating at Wisconsin’s academic Super Bowl the performance of a certain undefeated football team that lost its final game of the season.
They’re not the only ones hard at work, however.

These Benefactors Do Homework as Charities Fawn

Amy Merrick:

Amy Herzog took some curious steps as she prepared to interview with a big donor, one that could write a huge check for medical research on her son’s rare digestive disorder. She fretted over choosing the sweater and pants she wore, not wanting to look like “some old mom.” She made her husband, Brian, go with her. “I did not want to walk in there alone,” she says.
The Herzogs found the meeting room and sat down. Before them, with pens poised over questionnaires, was a committee of students at Highland Park High School.
The 1,888-student school in an affluent Chicago suburb is one of a number of schools across the country that have emerged as highly sought scientific benefactors. Last year, the students raised $180,000, and an anonymous donor matched that. Students gave the $360,000 in one lump to a research organization started by a local family whose son has Huntington’s disease and whose daughter will develop the fatal genetic disorder.

At Charter School: Higher Teacher Pay

Elissa Gootman:

A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.
The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.
The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success.
“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition.

Related: The Teacher Free Agent Market in Denver.

California Court: Credential Needed to Home School


California parents without teaching credentials cannot legally home school their children, according to a recent state appellate court ruling.
The immediate impact of the ruling was not clear. Attorneys for the state Department of Education were reviewing the ruling, and home schooling organizations were lining up against it.
“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Noncompliance could lead to criminal complaints against the parents, Croskey said.

An earlier post on this item can be found here.
Bob Egelko & Jill Tucker:

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.
The homeschooling movement never saw the case coming.
“At first, there was a sense of, ‘No way,’ ” said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. “Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation.”
The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.
The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.


Parents who home-school their children need a teaching credential, according to a recent appellate court ruling in California. What does the ruling mean for those who home-school more than 1 million American children?

Making Kids Money Savvy: Try These Four Financial Tricks

Jonathan Clements:

Give them a few dollars — and some financial common sense.
Want to make sure your children grow up to be money-smart adults? Check out the four experiments below.
My advice: Try these tricks on your kids, talk to them about the lessons to be learned — and then quietly muse about whether you, too, fall prey to these financial traps.
Favoring today. If children are to save diligently once they’re adults, they need to learn to delay gratification. Yet this skill doesn’t come easily.
Want proof? Let’s say you give your kids $5 a week in pocket money. When it’s next time to fork over their allowance, offer them a choice: They can have the usual $5 right away — or they can have $7, equal to a whopping 40% more, if they’re willing to wait a week.
“It’s about immediate gratification,” says Shlomo Benartzi, an economics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Getting nothing right now doesn’t sound good, so they’d probably go for the $5.”

‘Acting Black’ Hinders Gifted Black Student Achievement

NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 6 (AScribe Newswire) — Gifted black students often underachieve in school because of efforts to “act black,” new research has found, offering insights into the achievement gap between black and white students in the United States and why black students are under-represented in gifted programs.
“Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted black students, is due to the poor image these students have of themselves as learners,” study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, said. “Our research shows that prevention and intervention programs that focus on improving students’ achievement ethic and self-image are essential to closing the achievement gap.”
The research, one of the first to examine the concept of “acting black,” was published in the March issue of Urban Education. Ford and co-authors Gilman Whiting and Tarek Grantham set out to determine how gifted black students achieve compared to their white counterparts, what can be learned about the achievement gap by studying these students, and how gifted students view “acting black” and “acting white.” They surveyed 166 black 5th- through 12th-graders identified as gifted in two Ohio school districts.
“Many studies have been conducted about students, with little information collected from them,” the authors wrote. “It is with students themselves that many of the answers and solutions to underachievement, low achievement, and the achievement gap may be found.”
Most of the students were familiar with the terms “acting white” and “acting black.” They described “acting white” as speaking properly, being smart or too smart, doing well in school, taking advanced courses, being stuck up, and not acting your race. Terms they used to describe “acting black” were having a “don’t care” attitude, being laid back, being dumb or uneducated and pretending not to be smart.

Continue reading ‘Acting Black’ Hinders Gifted Black Student Achievement

After School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What It Takes to Achieve It

Priscilla M. D. Little, Christopher Wimer, and Heather B. Weiss, Harvard Family Research Project:

Harvard Family Research Project’s (HFRP) Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation briefs highlight current research and evaluation work in the out-of-school time field. These documents draw on HFRP’s research work in out-of-school time to provide practitioners, funders, evaluators, and policymakers with information to help them in their work. This brief looks at 10 years of research on after school programs and finds implications for the future of the after school field.
This research brief draws on seminal research and evaluation studies to address two primary questions: (a) Does participation in after school programs make a difference, and, if so (b) what conditions appear to be necessary to achieve positive results? The brief concludes with a set of questions to spur conversation about the evolving role of after school in efforts to expand time and opportunities for children and youth in the 21st century.

Iowa State University journalism director challenges cyber trend

Lisa Rossi:

When Iowa State University journalism school Director Michael Bugeja asked a group of Simpson College students what inspires awe in them, he was greeted with deafening silence.
After a second attempt to get a reaction generated only a feeble response, Bugeja pondered his own question and concluded: Technology creates simulated lives for too many of today’s college students. In some cases, he said, they get so wrapped up in their online lives that they lose touch with reality.
Bugeja blames technology. He warns anyone who will listen about the blind embrace of avatars, cyber lives and Web surfing during class.
“What we’re seeing is these consumer technologies are blurring the line between entertainment and learning,” he said.
His views have landed him at the center of a debate among education leaders over how to simultaneously capture the attention of tech-savvy students and still maintain the depth of instruction they will need to survive in the modern wired world.
Not everyone agrees with Bugeja. That’s why there’s a spam e-mail named for him. And it’s why the editor of the campus newspaper characterized his comments as “iPhobic” in 2006. Some, however, give Bugeja credit for putting the issue on the front burner.
“He makes us stop and think about the impact of that technology and why do we think that it works, how could we improve on it,” said Jim Davis, ISU’s chief information officer.

Teen Aggression May Really Be a State of Mind

Alan Mozes:

For parents of emotionally combative teens, new research offers a powerful biological reason for all the family feuding — adolescent brain size.
A team of Australian scientists has found that when key regions of the brain known for controlling emotions are bigger, boys and girls tend to be more aggressive and more persistent during their fights with Mom and Dad.
“This is a bit of a unique study,” said study author Nicholas Allen, an associate professor with the Orygen Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. “Because we’ve shown for the first time that in terms of aggression — not physical, but being argumentative and unfriendly — some of the differences in the way teen kids interact with parents are biologically based. The adolescent is developing, their brain is developing, and there’s a link between the two.”
The finding was published in this week’s online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A Discussion of Madison’s Virtual Campus

Joan Peebles:

In the past weeks, judges, legislators, parents and school district staff throughout Wisconsin have created a lot of buzz around virtual charter schools. Meanwhile, the Madison Metropolitan School District quietly, but proudly, launched a long-awaited and much-needed program named Madison Virtual Campus (MVC) that has avoided the virtual school controversy through careful and thoughtful planning.
MVC is not an online school, but rather is a group of online educational options that serve students and staff across the district. The district recognizes that high school students sometimes have learning needs that may not fit the typical school attendance model.
For example, high school students are now able to register for up to two online high school courses at any time during a school year. To assure success, online students are guided and supported by online teachers at each of the district’s high schools.

Homeowners Petition to Leave the Waukesha School District

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The fact that 66 out of 99 residents in the Meadowbrook Farms single-family home development in Pewaukee are willing to spend an average of $700 more in property taxes to leave the Waukesha School District says something about the disturbing trend in what the district is offering its families.
If the district and taxpaying voters in the district want to become more attractive to families moving into Waukesha County, they’re going to have to find ways to reverse that trend and be willing to pay the price.
As the Journal Sentinel’s Amy Hetzner detailed in a Tuesday article, two sets of property owners plan to ask a state panel to overrule the Waukesha School Board’s denial of their requests to detach from Waukesha and join Pewaukee’s school system

High Schools Add Classes Scripted by Corporations
Lockheed, Intel Fund Engineering Courses

Anne Marie Chaker:

In a recent class at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, N.J., business teacher Barbara Govahn distributed glossy classroom materials that invited students to think about what they want to be when they grow up. Eighteen career paths were profiled, including a writer, a magician, a town mayor — and five employees from accounting giant Deloitte LLP.
“Consider a career you may never have imagined,” the book suggests. “Working as a professional auditor.”
The curriculum, provided free to the public school by a nonprofit arm of Deloitte, aims to persuade students to join the company’s ranks. One 18-year-old senior in Ms. Govahn’s class, Hipolito Rivera, says the company-sponsored lesson drove home how professionals in all fields need accountants. “They make it sound pretty good,” he says.
Deloitte and other corporations are reaching out to classrooms — drafting curricula while also conveying the benefits of working for the sponsor companies. Hoping to create a pipeline of workers far into the future, these corporations furnish free lesson plans and may also underwrite classroom materials, computers or training seminars for teachers.
The programs represent a new dimension of the business world’s influence in public schools. Companies such as McDonald’s Corp. and Yum Brands Inc.’s Pizza Hut have long attempted to use school promotions to turn students into customers. The latest initiatives would turn them into employees.

A Look at California’s Dropouts

Nanette Asimov:

If California hopes to stop hemorrhaging the billions of dollars it spends by producing so many high school dropouts, the state needs to give schools better incentives to hold on to troubled students, change its graduation requirements and do more to plug the problem, researchers warn.
Each year, about 120,000 students fail to get a diploma by age 20, according to the California Dropout Research Project, which on Wednesday released detailed recommendations for state lawmakers and educators.
Each annual wave of dropouts costs the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes because people without a high school diploma are the most likely to be unemployed, turn to crime, need state-funded medical care, get welfare and pay no taxes, according to the report.
“California uses a number of strategies to reduce dropout rates … but together they are insufficient to address the problem,” say the researchers, led by education Professor Russell Rumberger of UC Santa Barbara.

Racine’s Maintenance Referendum Tour

Dani McClain:

Racine Unified’s school board has a new plan to convince taxpayers to support its April 1 facilities referendum:
District officials are loading residents onto school buses Saturday morning and taking them on a tour.
“A picture says a thousand words,” board member Don Nielsen says. “The real thing says even more.”
District finance director David Hazen will lead the “tourists” from Case High School (where Nielsen says doors are in bad shape), to Janes Elementary school (where the fire alarm system is too old, Nielsen says), to Walden III Middle and High School (where Nielsen says the boiler has just about had it).

The Teacher Free Agent Market in Denver

Mike Antonucci:

The autonomy movement in Denver is leading to a strange phenomenon: a boom market for quality teachers:

Diane Kenealy interviewed for a teaching job at West Denver Preparatory Charter School on Jan. 9, received a job offer within 24 hours and accepted the position three days later.
Compare that rapid hiring to this spring’s staffing calendar in traditional Denver Public Schools, which dictates principals can’t schedule interviews with teaching candidates until the middle of March.
Even then, they can only talk to candidates already working in a city school.
A DPS principal who wants to talk to a college senior such as Kenealy, who spends her summers teaching poor children in Denver, has to wait another full month, until mid-April.

Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?

Jennifer Medina:

The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.
The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.
School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

Madison Schools’ “Above the Line Behavior” Staff Training

Ron Lott:

Imagine being a student in a school where:

  • All the adults (teachers, bus drivers, administrators, after-school staff) work hard to develop relationships.
  • Behavioral expectations are consistent and taught in a way that makes sense.
  • Misbehaviors are viewed as teachable moments and responses help build responsibility.

Such an experience was the goal of the summer professional development series provided last August 20-24. Through the combined funding of an Evjue mini-grant ($4730), an Aristos grant ($2500), and a grant through The Foundation for Madison Public Schools ($10,000), a six-session series with noted presenter Corwin Kronenberg (pictured) was planned for an array of different target audiences. Kronenberg, the author of the Above the Line model for supporting student behavior, had provided smaller-scale trainings during the two previous summers.

School Lunch at Risk for Years

Elizabeth Williamson:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has for years had problems ensuring that beef supplied to the national school-lunch program meets food-safety standards, federal auditors’ reports show, suggesting more widespread problems than those that triggered the biggest food recall in U.S. history.
In reports dating back to 2003, the USDA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office cited the USDA’s lunch-program administrators and inspectors for weak food-safety standards, poor safeguards against bacterial contamination, and choosing lunch-program vendors with known food-safety violations. Auditors singled out problems with controls over E. coli and salmonella contamination.

Balancing Academic Tradition and Skills Employers Demand
Some Colleges Push for Focus on Writing

Valerie Strauss:

While designing a new core curriculum at Virginia Commonwealth University to help graduates thrive in the 21st century, Vice Provost Joseph Marolla seized on an old standard to ensure its success: teaching students to write better.
This school year, all freshmen at Virginia’s largest university began taking a two-semester course called Focused Inquiry that replaces English 101 and targets specific skills, writing chief among them.
The same thinking was behind a shake-up at the 50,000-student University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where an initiative was launched this school year, and a new department created, to make writing an essential element of every student’s education.
The push to improve writing is taking hold at many colleges and universities amid a national debate about what higher education in 21st century should look like in the face of government projections that nearly two-thirds of all high-growth, high-wage jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree — a degree only one-third of adults have.
The curriculum debate started at least 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson grew tired of trying to change the curriculum of the College of William and Mary and founded the University of Virginia to launch the “liberal arts.” It is being played out at schools that are revamping curriculum to meet the demands of business leaders who want workers better trained in problem solving and collaboration and academics dedicated to a broad, intellectually rich education.
“We don’t want college to be a trade school,” Marolla said. “Everybody understands that. But as we’ve moved into the 21st century, we know that college kids have to have certain skills to be able to be successful over their lifetime.”

Giving Families the Preschool Choice

Kenneth Blackwell:

Across the country, governors are rushing to pour more and more tax dollars into state-run preschool programs. Today, all but ten states offer some sort of taxpayer-funded preschool for some three and four year olds — primarily based on need.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, more than $3.3 billion is spent on the nearly 950,000 children who used these programs each year. And last year, 28 states increased government funding by a combined 13%.
Reaching our youngest and most vulnerable children early with the basics of a good education is a good idea. The problem is many states are locking these students into dysfunctional and underperforming public education systems just a few years early.
If governors and legislatures want to expand public preschool, they should be mindful of the mistakes of the past. Instead of ceding more authority and tax dollars to entrenched educational bureaucracies and teachers’ unions, parent empowerment and education choice programs should be considered. And, if parents choose parochial or faith-based schools, so be it.
The real strength of America’s education system is in the diversity of educational opportunities. This diversity has allowed competition, preserved choice, and increased educational experimentation. Any valid proposal to improve educational opportunity for our youngest children will build on both of these strengths.

Take Home Test: Madison school board (unopposed) candidates take on charter schools

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

More and more Wisconsin school districts are experimenting with charter schools. Some 231 are in operation. Most have a specialty focus and are exempted from certain state regulations to facilitate new approaches to learning.
Appleton, for example, has 14 charter schools for its 15,000 students. These schools focus on Montessori learning, environmentalism, gifted education, the construction industry, arts immersion and alternative programs, among others.
Madison with its almost 25,000 students has held back, authorizing just two charters, the bilingual Nuestro Mundo on the east side, and the south side’s Wright Middle School, which despite its charter designation offers a program similar to Madison’s other middle schools.
The two Madison school board candidates — Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 — were relatively vague when we asked them about charter schools this week. Perhaps an inquiring voter will pin them down at an upcoming forum.

The Whole Child

Here in Massachusetts these days, we are hearing more and more from the Governor and educators about “The Whole Child.” They say we should be sure, in our schools, not to get distracted from a focus, in a holistic way, on the whole child.
I have heard about this “whole child,” but I have yet to have anyone explain what that could mean. I know that it has been said, of boys, for instance, that they are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” and of girls, that they are mostly “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but I can’t believe that completes the inventory.
Each student may be considered from a neuro-psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, dental, muscular-skeletal, ethnic, spiritual, academic, motivational, personality configuration, family, allergic, drug-resistant, blood-type, intellectual, gastrointestinal and athletic point of view, among a large group of other perspectives.
This raises the question of what parts of the whole child the school might be best qualified and equipped to work with? Surely no imaginable set of teachers, nurses, hall monitors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, and so on can deal with all the various characteristics of each human being who comes as a student to their school.
It would appear that a school and its staff might have to choose which aspects of the whole child should be their focus. In recent decades, self-esteem, tolerance, social consciousness, respect for differences, and environmental awareness have taken up a good deal of time in the schools. Perhaps as a consequence, our students tend to be in-numerate and a-literate. The Boston Globe reports today that: “37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.”

Continue reading The Whole Child

Much more on Finland’s Education System

A reader emailed these links regarding the recent article on Finland’s education system:

  • The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills:

    The results of the PISA survey (http://www.jyu.fi/ktl/pisa/) have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.
    However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.
    This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be – and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is – called “mathematical literacy”; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

  • Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills:

    Basic school teacher Antero Lahti expressed (HS 28.2.) the opinion that the concern of over 200 university teachers for the mathematics teaching (HS 17.2.) were merely academic criticism.
    In fact, about one half of those signing are teachers at polytechnics (universities of applied sciences) and technical universities. They do not teach “academic” mathematics but mathematics needed in technical practice and engineering sciences. Over 12 000 students start engineering studies yearly.
    The mathematics skills of new engineering students have been systematically tested during years 1999-2004 at Turku polytechnic using 20 mathematical problems. One example of poor knowledge of mathematics is the fact that only 35 percent of the 2400 tested students have been able to do an elementary problem where a fraction is subtracted from another fraction and the difference is divided by an integer.
    If one does not know how to handle fractions, one is not able to know algebra, which uses the same mathematical rules. Algebra is a very important field of mathematics in engineering studies. It was not properly tested in the PISA study. Finnish basic school pupils have not done well in many comparative tests in algebra (IEA 1981, Kassel 1994-96, TIMSS 1999).

A Cautionary Case for Schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The words of Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater should stand as a warning to school administrators statewide:
“In the context of what we know now, we would take a whole different approach. ”
Rainwater was referring to the district ‘s experience with a former male employee, allowed to quietly resign after a complaint of inappropriate behavior toward a female student.
The man later got a job with a different school district, which was unaware of the accusation at La Follette High School.
The man is now charged with repeated sexual assault of a child and with possession of child pornography.
The Madison district ‘s handling of the 2006 resignation of the employee, Anthony Hirsch, now of DeForest, should prompt all school districts to take a skeptical view of signing resignation agreements that require the district to keep quiet about any suspicions of inappropriate behavior on the job.

Madison School Board Approves West Side Boundary Change


ome disappointed Madison parents said they will try to find the words to tell their children that they’ll be moving to another school next year.
In a unanimous decision, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education voted to approve Plan F, which will move dozens of students from Chavez Elementary School to Falk Elementary next year. The affected area is referred to by the district officials as the “Channel 3 area,” which is the neighborhood that basically surrounds WISC-TV studios on the West Side of the city.
The district’s Long Range Planning Committee recommended Plan F, which will move 65 children in those neighborhoods to another elementary school for the fourth time in the last 15 years.

Andy Hall:

After hearing from about 30 speakers, a few of whom were moved to tears, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved controversial plans to redraw elementary and middle school attendance boundaries on the West Side.
Two hours of public testimony and 90 minutes of discussion by board members resulted in six unanimous decisions to approve changes in the Memorial High School attendance area to accommodate population changes and an elementary school that will open in the fall on the Far West Side.
Several speakers said the changes, which also affected Jefferson and Toki middle schools, will cause them to consider enrolling their children in private school.

Susan Troller also covered Monday’s meeting.

Is Reform Math a Big Mistake?

Via a Linda Thomas email:

Flash cards are out. Math triangles are in.
Mrs. Potter grabbed a chunky stack of flashcards, stood in front of the classroom and flipped through them every day when I was in second grade: 6 + 6 = blank, 7 + 3 = blank, 5 + 6 = blank. In unison, we responded 12, 10, 11. Our robotic pace slowed a bit when she held up subtraction cards.
That’s so old school.
The triangles my second-grade son brought home from school this year have plus and minus signs in the middle, with one number on each point. Students learn number families. For example, on a triangle of 6, 8 and 14 students see that 6 + 8, 8 + 6, 14 – 6 and 14 – 8 are all related.
Math triangles are part of the reform math curricula taught in more than one quarter of the nation’s schools. (See article “Math Wars” for a history of U.S. math education.) Seattle’s public elementary and middle schools teach reform math. This month the Seattle School Board will hear a recommendation for a new high school math curriculum that will be reform based. A key feature of this type of instruction is an emphasis on concepts, as opposed to computations.
In a traditional classroom, solving 89 + 21 involves lining the numbers up, carrying the one and arriving at 110 as the answer. Students learning reform math would think about the problem and reorganize it in several ways: 80 + 20 + 10, or 80 + 30, or 90 + 20. Same answer, different method.